Overcoming the “excruciating” first encounters between teenagers and their future potential employers is key to giving youngsters the best employment opportunities from an early age.
That was the message from the headteacher overseeing the county’s new careers hub, which targets some of the most disadvantaged districts in the region to provide pupils with tailored support to get onto the jobs ladder.
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Ruth England, from Shuttleworth College in Burnley, told a meeting of the Lancashire Enterprise Partnership’s Skills Board that it can be tough for teenagers to engage with adults other than their family and teachers.
“We talk about the skills young people need, but one of the first is the ability to eyeball an adult they haven’t met before,” Ms. England said.
“They won’t have the right communication skills and body language at first - but if they go through that when they are 12 or 13, they will be more like the adults [employers] want by the time they are 16 or 17.”
Ms. England added that companies need to rethink the perception of their perfect employee as a “very middle class child who reminds them of their nieces and nephews”, something which “puts young people off” working in certain industries.
The comments came at a meeting where managers denied that a two-tier careers service had been created in the county.
The Lancashire careers hub - one of 20 pilot schemes recently set up by the government - is focusing its efforts on Blackpool, Burnley and Pendle, areas whose young people have been deemed to be most in need of support.
The remainder of the county is covered by the Enterprise Adviser Network (EAN), a scheme which has been running since 2016 to facilitate face-to-face encounters between students and employers.
Dr. Michele Lawty-Jones, director of the LEP’s skills hub, admitted that the careers hub locations could expect a “gold standard”, but said that their work would “ripple out” into every corner of the county.
“We targeted those areas because of [their] levels of disadvantage and the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training. We know there’s more work to be done to raise aspirations and gain insight into different job opportunities,” Dr Lawty Jones said.
“But that doesn’t mean everywhere else will lose out. The careers hub will create a community of practice which will then spill out into schools and colleges across Lancashire.”
The careers hub areas - whose work is funded by the Careers and Enterprise Company - will focus particularly on personalised guidance, designed to meet the needs of each pupil.
The broader Enterprise Adviser Network is aiming to offer every student at least one meeting with an employer during their time at secondary school or college. These can range from careers fairs to work experience and mentoring.
There are now over 125 Lancashire schools and colleges taking part in the EAN, the majority of which have been matched with a volunteer business leader to work with their pupils.
Dr. Lawty Jones said employers are often surprised by the calibre of students they meet.
“[There has been] a rhetoric from employers saying young people aren’t work ready and lack employability skills. But when they are actually getting involved with young people, it’s changing their perceptions about the level of skills that they have.”
The government unveiled a new careers strategy last year, after a decade during which responsibility passed from central to local government - and then back again.
Dr, Lawty-Jones admitted that the work being carried out in Lancashire involved stitching back together a service which had been partially unpicked.
“I think it’s been recognised nationally...that there needed to be a radical overhaul of the careers provision that was available to young people.
“We don’t want people looking back and remembering one 15-minute appointment with their careers adviser. It’s changing the model to open young people’s eyes to the range of opportunities [available] and embedding that into the curriculum, she added.